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California

Coronavirus has Silicon Valley on unprecedented restrictions, empty shelves, quiet streets

Handshake Free Zone
A sign declares the UC San Francisco Medical Center a handshake-free zone.
(Getty Images)

On the night after a historic push in the San Francisco Bay Area to shrink and even end all gatherings to rein in the spreading coronavirus, the region seemed to go into hiding.

The crazed rush at the Safeway in Millbrae, near the San Francisco International Airport, had finally ebbed late Friday, with shoppers in masks picking through boxes to find the last few packages of toilet paper.

A nearby Baskin-Robbins had stopped giving out ice cream samples. And a cellphone store farther down Broadway posted a sign promising that its door handles were sanitized four times a day. Farther south, in Silicon Valley, workers were settling into a new reality — no more free food from their tech cafeterias, forcing them to order in.

The streets emptied out; U.S. 101 was free and clear. And at Katana Sushi & Sake in Sunnyvale, normally bustling on a Friday night, just one-third of the tables were occupied — making it easy for diners to stay far more than six feet away from any other table

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This is what Silicon Valley looks like amid an unprecedented canceling of public gatherings ordered by public health officials because of the virus.

A serious outbreak

Santa Clara County is in the midst of the outbreak, with more than 90 cases and two deaths reported so far.

Cases

91 Total cases
38 Hospitalized
2 Deaths

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The coronavirus has affected many areas of life. One San Jose firefighter has tested positive, as have three airport TSA screeners.

On Saturday, officials revealed a Stanford student had tested positive for the virus, prompting new safety measures on campus. “This student is now self-isolating. Our teams are currently doing contact tracing and are working to inform and provide guidance to all close contacts of the individual as soon as possible,” Stanford said in a statement.

Unprecedented restrictions

Calling the coronavirus outbreak “one of the most historic public health challenges of our time,” the Santa Clara County health officer on Friday issued an aggressive ban on public gatherings of 35 or more unless organizers warn attendees that it poses a heightened risk of infection and banning all public and private gatherings of 100 or more.

The order recommended that all gatherings be canceled.

With the virus hitting Silicon Valley hard, the order by Dr. Sara Cody was the most stringent ban on public gatherings across California. Santa Clara County is the worst hit county across the state, reporting two deaths.

The county superintendent of schools also ordered the closure of public schools in Santa Clara County beginning March 16 through April 3.

“Based on these data and patterns of disease that we see around the world, we know that the outbreak of COVID-19 in our county will accelerate. And we anticipate many, many more cases in the days and weeks to come,” Cody said.

“These measures are designed to slow the spread of disease and preserve critical healthcare capacity and other essential services,” she said.

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The order was sure to have a dramatic effect on restaurants, theaters and bars.

Cody said the orders and recommendations apply to any event that brings together people in a confined indoor or outdoor space.

San Francisco’s health officer has issued a public health order banning all non-essential events of 100 or more people. Restaurants that have a capacity of more than 100 people can continue operating if they reduce their occupancy in half to allow for adequate social distancing. For instance, a restaurant with an occupancy of 150 can continue operating if it reduces its occupancy to 75.

“We hope that this order will encourage people to skip social gatherings for the time being, and promote telecommuting and social distancing. Together, we can fight the spread of coronavirus, reduce harm to our community, and protect the most vulnerable people,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of health.

Santa Clara County requirements

There are five requirements that hosts of public and private gatherings between 35 and 100 people must comply with in Santa Clara County:

  • Keep attendees at least six feet from each other
  • Make soap and water available for attendees to wash their hands, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • People hosting gatherings must alert prospective attendees 24 hours before that the events post a heightened risk of coronavirus transmission, and older adults and those with health conditions are at serious risk and should not attend
  • For ticketed events, hosts must allow prospective attendees to cancel their attendance at no charge and refund them
  • Hosts must clean surfaces with disinfecting wipes and other standard cleaners.

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